Drone season is raging so hard right now. I am positively itchy with drones. The Mavic 2 Pro, however, is the first one whose footage has made my tongue fall out of my mouth and unroll like a Loony Toon. Not only is the video quality incredible, but it’s gotten way better at tracking subjects. There’s also the Mavic 2 Zoom to consider, the Pro’s plucky sibling. Let’s break this thing down.
There’s really just one Mavic 2 drone with two camera options. Apart from the camera, the Pro and the Zoom are identical. Both retain the same foldable design as the original Mavic Pro, but they’re slightly bigger and heavier now. That’s not what you generally hope for, but what you get in return is considerable: a larger battery with up to 31 minutes of flight time (in my testing, 25 minutes was about the average) and the ability to travel and track objects up to 45 miles per hour.
Arguably the most-important addition, though, are the new sensors giving the Mavic omnidirectional obstacle avoidance. Not only that, its revamped version of ActiveTrack—now ActiveTrack 2.0—can predict where you’re going to go. The previous incarnation would stop and hover in place if it encountered an obstacle while tracking you; you had to grab the remote and navigate it to safety yourself. With the new version it will encounter, say, a tree branch, then go around it and continue tracking you. It works remarkably well.
The WIRED Guide to Drones
The drone maxes out at 12 miles per hour with obstacle avoidance switched on, so you aren’t going to be able to go full-tilt on a mountain bike through a densely-wooded area. Still, I ran in and around some fairly dense trees and bushes and it did a commendable job of staying with me. I was certainly able to lead it into situations it couldn’t get out of, and it would lose me here and there, but it never once crashed. That’s really the key thing here: This is the most crash-proof drone I’ve ever flown, by a long shot. For amateurs, that’s a major selling-point.
In general, the Mavic 2 just feels more polished than the first generation. There’s less wobble in the joints. The lens cover is easier to use and really locks the gimbal in place. Significantly, the remote control seems to have far greater range and throughput. At one point the drone was more than three miles away from me (deep in the wilderness, I promise!) and I still had solid, real-time video coming through with nary a glitch.
One of the new features in the drones is Hyperlapse, which I was very excited about, but which left me underwhelmed. The video is not stabilized, so there’s a fair amount of shake, and it’s limited to 1080p. This feels like a big misstep. It has some cool features, like the ability to control the length you want the finished video to be, and some clever ways of controlling the drone while shooting the hyperlapse, but it’s let down by the end result. I’d love to see them fix this with a software update. If a GoPro Hero7 can make a stabilized 4K hyperlapse, then the Mavic 2 really should be able to as well. It’s worth noting that you can save the full resolution photos from a timelapse and put them together later on your own, but that takes some doing.
This Drone, That Drone
There real differences between these two drones is in the cameras. The Zoom has a very decent camera with 2x optical zoom capabilities—24mm to 48mm equivalent—and you can push that all the way to 96mm if you’re shooting at 1080p and don’t mind some digital zoom. It’s a cool feature that would be useful for, say, filming animals you don’t want to get too close to.
It also allows you to do a pre-programmed dolly-zoom shot (a.k.a. the Vertigo shot that Hitchcock made famous), like the Parrot Anafi. It does produce a really cool effect, but only if you have the background lined up just right. The dolly-zoom pulls the drone back while the camera zooms in, keeping the subject the same size in the frame while the background appears to grow and come closer. The Zoom also a “Super Resolution” mode for photos, which zooms in and automatically stitches together nine photos into one 48-megapixel with truly impressive detail. Pretty neat, but only for still subjects or far-off scenes.
This is the most crash-proof drone I’ve ever flown, by a long shot.
For the Mavic 2 Pro, DJI partnered with high-end camera-maker Hasselblad to build a camera with a one-inch sensor. That’s four times larger than the image sensor on the Zoom, and the difference is striking. It’s much better in low-light, and its max ISO (that’s the sensor’s sensitivity) jumps from 3200 to 12,800. The Pro can also shoot 10-bit 4K Dlog-M at 100Mbps. That’s basically like shooting RAW video. When you first look at the footage it’s kind of flat and gray, but it’s retaining a huge amount of information. All you have to do a slap a LUT (a package of color-grading presets, basically) on it in Premiere or Final Cut and it looks incredibly professional.
Even if you leave everything on auto, you still get killer results. The vast majority of the video I shot was with the standard, out-of-the-box settings, because I think that’s how most consumers will use it, at least for starters. Detail is still terrific, colors pop, and everything has a very cinematic sheen to it. It certainly does better with well-lit subjects than backlit ones, like any camera. The one weird thing with the Pro was that if I set it to Auto White Balance (AWB) sometimes it shifted in the middle of a shot, seemingly for no reason. Something like that makes it really difficult to color correct your footage in post. Obviously, you can just turn off AWB and it’s not an issue, but it’s still something that should be fixed.
So what’s the verdict? As a platform, the Mavic 2 is fantastic. Personally, I’m not as drawn to the Zoom. It’s just not a feature I see myself using that often, and frankly I’d rather stick with the DJI Mavic Air because it’s just so much lighter and more compact. The Pro, however, has me thinking twice. The image quality is just so dang good that, when combined with the improved tracking and omnidirectional obstacle avoidance, it’s hands-down my new top recommendation for drones.
It is, however, $1,500 (the Zoom is a bit more reasonable at $1,250). First-time drone buyers should probably buy the cheaper Air. For those who want the prettiest footage possible from a compact drone, well, the Mavic 2 Pro is the first consumer-oriented drone that actually earns the Pro name. The footage really does look that good.